Public health

Vaping-linked illness reports cause polarisation in public health advice

Reports of a vaping-related death and hundreds of cases of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarette use in the US have led to highly polarised reactions from Australian experts.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it had received 215 reports of  potential severe lung disease  from state health departments since late June, including one death linked to e-cigarette use.

However the CDC cautioned that the cases were still under investigation and the health problems may have been related to vaping of nicotine, synthetic cannabinoids or other substances.

“At this time, there does not appear to be one product involved in all of the cases, although THC and cannabinoids use has been reported in many cases. At this time, the specific substances within the e-cigarette products that cause illness are not known and could involve a variety of substances,” it said in a statement.

“While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the respiratory illnesses,”.

“In many cases, patients reported a gradual start of symptoms, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, and/or chest pain before hospitalization. Some cases reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal illness including vomiting and diarrhea, or other symptoms such as fevers or fatigue. “

Public health researcher and veteran anti-tobacco campaigner Professor Simon Chapman said the cases showed there was a need to stand firm against the lobbying efforts of the vaping industry.

“The full disaster of smoking’s health effects did not become apparent for 40 years after smoking became widespread. With vaping only being widespread in some countries for 10 years, it is far too early to know the full risks of e-cigarettes. But 160 serious cases of lung disease in 15 US states, including one death may be an ominous ‘canary in the coalmine’ of what lies ahead,” he said.

“This death and the 160 other serious cases of lung disease being investigated underscore just how prudent Australia’s precautionary approach to e-cigarette regulation is. Evil genies are very, very hard to get back in their bottles.

“The average daily vaper inhales a cocktail of vapourised nicotine, propylene glycol ad chemical flavouring agents deep into their lungs 200 times a day or 73,000 times a year. We have no idea what the long term consequences of this are. Vapers are being treated like human lab rats by the vaping and tobacco industries which have all now bought into e-cigs.”

But Professor Wayne Hall, Director of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at The University of Queensland said that smokers using vaporisers that contain approved nicotine products obtained on prescription were unlikely to be at risk.

“Vaping nicotine to quit smoking is highly unlikely to be the cause. Nicotine vaping is an effective quitting aid and has not yet been linked to any serious respiratory harm,” he said.

“A much more likely explanation is the use of contaminated black-market THC liquids (the active ingredient in cannabis or marijuana) or synthetic cannabis, which have been reported as being used by many of those affected.

“Vapers in Australia who are using nicotine from a reputable source to quit smoking should not panic. It is important not to stop vaping if you might relapse to smoking. Non-smokers and young people should not vape.”

Professor Hall did not declare any conflict of interest

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